The Samaritan Woman and Thirst (John 4.1-42)

This passage is bleeding. There are seven hundred years of deep-seated racial hatred coursing through this passage between Jew and Samaritan. There is also religious hatred, with different views of the Bible and ways to worship God. There is nationalistic hatred, with terror being inflicted both ways. There is gender hatred: “Samaritan women are menstruants from the cradle” (Mishnah). In other words, Jewish men looked upon Samaritan women as dirty, vile, unclean, less than human. A recipe for abuse. The Apostle John simply summarizes the bleeding in this passage by saying, “(The) Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (verse 9). 

Where John localizes the bleeding between Jew and Samaritan, Paul globalizes it, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning…And not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan inwardly…” The word Paul picks for “groaning” was used for soldiers bleeding out on the battlefield. In other words, it is the death groan of someone watching their life source flow out of them. Where Paul globalizes the death groan, John zeroes in on what it looks like in one lone individual person: “A woman from Samaria came to draw water” (verse 7).

Anyone who has lost a lot of blood understands how thirsty you get. So of course this woman is found at a well: “A woman from Samaria came to draw water” (verse 7). John scholar, Andreas Kostenberger, says “On a literal level, thirst is among the most intense and imperative human cravings. Hence, in Scripture thirst is used as a metaphor for (the need for God).”

What does her thirst or need for God look like? First, her thirst looks like loneliness and isolation. “Wells” in the Bible and the ancient world are places of friendship and community. She, however, goes to the well at the hottest time of the day (noon) alone. Second, her thirst looks like her sexual history (vv.16-18). She has tried to quench her thirst with men. Where are you bleeding? Where are you thirsty, in need of God?

This passage is bleeding, but Jesus heals: “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” What is the healing or living water that Jesus brings? “Wells” in the Bible are not only sororities for the women, but also pick-up places for the men. Think Isaac, Jacob, Moses. They found their wives at a well. This is why verse 4 tells us that Jesus had to pass through Samaria. Jesus had to find his bride! Calculate the number of men in her life. Verse 18 says she has had 5. Then Jesus says, “the one you now have is not your husband.” This brings the total to six.

Jesus at the well,  Jacob’s well, becomes the seventh man in her life. Seven is the perfect number in the Old Testament. It is the number of completeness, wholeness, and healing. Jesus is the man she has been looking for her whole life. Jesus is the living water. Jesus heals our bleeding hearts.